Labor groups pushing for Skookumchuck Wind Project backer to hire local

RES-Americas, the backer of the Skookumchuck Wind Project being constructed in Lewis County near the Thurston County line this summer, says it’s committed to using local construction workers whenever possible after organized labor campaigned for the company to hire local workers.

“We have been actively seeking subcontractors for all scopes,” said Joel Leineke, the company’s executive vice president of construction. “As a company, we have the ability to perform every single trade required on the project … but our goal is to maximize the use of regional subcontractors.”

Leineke’s comments came after a hearing Tuesday in which roughly 100 members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America packed the room in an effort to put public pressure on RES-Americas to hire local laborers. Several union leaders said the company had not been very responsive to their requests to discuss local hiring.

Leineke said he was unsure who the union leaders had been in contact with, but the company has been in dialogue with local subcontractors for years as it’s readied the project. The project is expected to require close to 300 jobs during the construction phase.

“The tree-clearing work that’s being done right now is being done by a local subcontractor from the area. We have a couple different contractors we’re speaking to about the civil works,” he said. “We are working with a number of subcontractors, we’re outreaching to additional subcontractors, and our hope is to subcontract as much of the project as possible.”

Leineke said he has spoken with Bob Guenther, president of the Thurston-Lewis-Mason Counties Labor Council, who has been among the vocal leaders in pushing the company to hire local workers.

“I had a very good conversation with him,” Guenther said. “It was straight, frank and up-front. We’ve got an opportunity to make some progress for them as well as us.”

RES-Americas, Leineke said, originally intended to handle all of the work on the project with laborers from Washington, Oregon and northern Idaho. With a compressed construction timeline caused by some permitting delays, the company may bring in its own workers for some aspects of the project, but it still plans to hire locally whenever possible, he said.

Guenther said RES-Americas has offered to divide the various projects on the site into smaller bids, giving local contractors a better chance at getting a piece of the action.

“In the construction world, there’s scopes of work for each segment of the job, and he’s willing to break down the scopes of work so that smaller contractors have the ability to participate in that plan,” he said. “I’m working on getting names of local contractors to send over for them to consider sending a bid request.”

The company did not commit to hire union laborers, but Leineke noted that many contractors on the West Coast are union-affiliated.

RES-Americas has begun tree clearing on the site as it waits for a few permits to clear procedural hurdles so it can begin construction. Next, it will build access roads and install foundations for the 38 turbines on the site. Work on the substation and transmission line will begin soon as well.

Parts for the turbines won’t arrive until late summer, but the company believes the wind farm is still on track to begin generating power by the end of the year.